Blue Ribbon Blog

Welcome to the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation’s blog!

We are a non-profit organization with a mission to raise funds for the renovation and preservation of the historic Iowa State Fairgrounds. Since our inception in 1993, the Foundation has raised more than $195 million through individual contributions, state appropriations, in-kind services, and corporate, federal and state grants.

Please follow our blog to learn more about our organization.

Marking the New Calendar

January 10, 2014
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For my job and personal life, I use my cell phone, computer, and iPad every day. Electronics are extremely helpful but can sometimes be consuming. Even as a young “digitalized” adult, I still find comfort in writing important dates on a physical calendar that hangs on the refrigerator at home. My calendar of choice for 2014 consists of 12 beautiful sunsets. (It’s the first calendar I found on sale after the holidays.)

I started filling out the calendar by writing each family member’s birthday, upcoming weddings, and a couple vacations. New for me this year, I added the Blue Ribbon Foundation events.

I continually remind my friends that I do indeed work more than the 11 days of the Fair. The entire Blue Ribbon Foundation staff is busy year round planning fundraising events, promoting opportunities to give to the Foundation and preparing for the 2014 Fair.

I typically lay out my “game plan” each week as I continue to learn my role with the Foundation.  I’m always looking ahead to what needs to be done, way to incorporate new ideas, and trying to improve an existing successful organization.  Let me be the first to say, every day is an adventure.

Below are a few specific dates on my calendar:

  • February 10-13: Iowa Beef Expo/Volunteers will be selling Iowa State Fair merchandise
  • March 1: Deadline to join or renew Membership Programs for 2014 (1854 Society, Fan Fair, Jake’s Club)
  • March 31: Deadline for Giving Program items to be placed by Fair 2014 (bricks, lamp posts, trees)
  • June 30: Deadline for Block by Block program (Donor Wall in Jacobson Exhibition Center)
  • July 1: Deadline for Iowan of the Day applications for Fair 2014
  • July 12: Corndog Kickoff
  • August 7 – 17: Iowa State Fair

I don’t really need the month of August in my calendar at home; I can pretty much guarantee I will be on the Fairgrounds. As busy as my year seems, I know it will go fast. I look forward to meeting more Iowa State Fair supporters and completing my first year as a Foundation staff member.

If this post has inspired you to add a few Blue Ribbon Foundation events to your calendar, just remember somebody’s birthday is September 1.

Below are a few Fairgrounds sunset pictures that would have been great additions to my calendar at home.



Reminiscing the Past & Looking to the Future

December 30, 2013
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The end of December is always the best time to look back at the previous year. Personally and professionally I have had many changes in 2013. This past year’s State Fair theme was “Happiness Is” and I think it describes my last 12 months perfectly. In the summer I moved to Des Moines and I am extremely happy to be living closer to my family. (Living 4 hours from home was too much for me.) In the last year, I have met new friends that I hope to have for many years to come. The biggest highlight for 2013 was my new job.  I am happy to come to work everyday and do a job that I enjoy.

For instance, today I kept busy reading internship applications for the upcoming spring and summer. The Foundation has received several high quality candidates. In the next couple of weeks, we will interview and hire our crucial additional staff. I am so excited to give three college students the opportunity to grow and gain the experience that is needed to start in the workforce. There is no doubt that my internship experience landed me my current role with the Foundation.

In the past year, the Foundation had another successful Corndog Kickoff by raising $416,000. In the beginning of August, the Foundation welcomed a new Executive Director, Peter Cownie. The 11 days of the Fair were filled with merchandise/water sales, celebrating Iowans and keeping the Butter Cow secure. Throughout the year, continued renovations and improvements were made across the Fairgrounds. The November 5K Run was a fun way to cap off the year.

As we look back on 2013, the Foundation would like to thank each and every Fair-lover for making this year such a success. We are honored to have fantastic donors, volunteers, supporters, and friends. We couldn’t do it without each and every one of you.

Over the next few months, I will be busy with membership program renewals, giving program donations, Corndog Kickoff planning, and preparing for the 2014 Iowa State Fair. I know the year will go fast. The 2014 Iowa State Fair theme is Amazing Amusing. I hope 2014 will be the most amazing and amusing year for you!

Happy New Year!

A few highlights from 2013:





Happy Holidays

December 20, 2013
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Happy Holidays!

With the holidays upon us we wish you a joyful season and a happy new year!

Thank you for your continued support of the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation.

- John, Peter, Robin, Jenna, and Drew

Iowa State Fair Art

December 12, 2013
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Like most people, the one place I spend more time than at home is work. During the week, I drive onto the Fairgrounds, up to the Earth Home and spend the day in my office. Besides the desk, chair and filing cabinets, my work space has been plain and very empty since I “moved in” last August. In the last week, I decided that I need to decorate!  

I realized pretty quickly that I lack home décor style. After a fresh coat of paint, I decided to keep things classy with a black and white photo. I wanted to keep the decorations simple yet reflect my job. The midway scene is one of my favorite pictures of the Fairgrounds and looks perfect above my desk. As soon as the picture was hung, I knew I needed something on the adjacent wall. Why not another State Fair print?

I was in luck. The State Fair Store features more than just your typical Fair memorabilia – some things might surprise you. We sell several unique prints.

“100 Years” is a one-of-a-kind print of Nadine Hawbaker’s watercolor painting featuring the Butter Cow and other Iowa State Fair icons.  There are also several McNarney prints of buildings across the Fairgrounds.

The one I think that will look best in my office is the Photo Print. This creative print features photographs of letters found around the Fairgrounds to spell out “Iowa State Fair”.

Once I get the second picture hung, fill the other frames with family photos, and maybe find a vase for my desk – I should be set.

If you need to add artwork to your office or home - all of the prints and other merchandise are available online at the State Fair Store. As a reminder, the public is always welcome to purchase any merchandise items at our office.

When you stop by to pick out that special piece of art or other holiday gift, be sure to check out my new office décor.


Snow on the Fairgrounds

December 9, 2013
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There is officially snow on the Fairgrounds today. It’s a little different from the scene you’re used to seeing in August. Try to imagine if the Iowa State Fair was held in December instead of August. Crowds walking around in the snow or going inside the Varied Industries Building to warm up instead of cool off. The Foundation would need to sell hot chocolate throughout the Fairgrounds instead of water. I’m guilty of complaining about the heat during the summer, but I will take it any day over the cold temperatures.

To me, this fall has gone extremely fast. Here are the highlights from my first fall on the job:

  • I completed my first round of placing bricks across the Fairgrounds. (After 56 bricks, I'll be ready to place even more next summer.)
  • The biggest project/fundraiser was the 7th annual Fairgrounds 5K. The successful event raised more than $5,000 for renovations. Thanks again to the sponsors, volunteers, and participants!
  • I’ve spent a lot of time getting myself organized and familiar with my job duties. I was busy sending the Foundation’s Membership Program renewals. Would you like to join the 1854 Society, Fan Fair or Jake’s Club for next year’s Fair?

Don’t you worry; I will be busy right up until the end of the year:

  • I’m in charge of shipping merchandise orders.  Check out the State Fair Store for all your shopping needs. Don’t forget that you can purchase any merchandise item at the Blue Ribbon Foundation’s office.
  • This week, I will be creating center pieces for the annual Holiday Party. I have a feeling this will be a creative warm-up before next summer’s Corndog Kickoff.
  • In the next month, I will write the Winter Newsletter. Read last quarter’s newsletter if you missed it.

The Blue Ribbon Foundation has a very important deadline, just around the corner: Internship Applications are due December 31. Please remind any college sophomore or junior to apply for this opportunity soon. Our interns will become a crucial part of the Foundation’s staff next Spring and Summer. The internship is an excellent way to spend a summer gaining knowledge and work experience to prepare you for after graduation.  Click here for details.

Overall, I don’t mind the snow, as long as I’m busy working at the office. Now when it comes time for me to travel home for Christmas – this Iowa weather better cooperate.

Holiday Merchandise Sale

November 27, 2013
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The following Iowa State Fair merchandise items will be on sale from now until December 20. All items may be purchased online at the State Fair Store or at the Blue Ribbon Foundation Office.

Butter Cow Security Shirt: $10

It's a Fair Game: $15


Campgrounds Shuttle Ornament: $14

4230 John Deere Tractor: $30



Fair Thanksgiving

November 26, 2013
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As families and friends celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, many will gather around the dining room table for a feast of yummy food. My plan is to eat as much turkey and homemade goodies as I can. The holiday only comes once a year, so it makes the traditional meal even more special.

Since the Iowa State Fair is only 11 days out of the year, Fair food is its own special tradition. Personally, I try to eat as much Fair food as I can during August. Two State Fairs have incorporated Thanksgiving into their Fair’s menu.

The Wisconsin State Fair has featured a Thanksgiving Waffle. A bread stuffing with craisins, mixed with waffle batter, cooked in a Belgium Waffle iron, and topped with mashed potatoes, turkey, and gravy. In a competition at the Texas State Fair, a contestant made an entire Fried Thanksgiving dinner.

Part of me wishes my family would have delicious and giant State Fair Turkey Legs for our Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe one day. In all seriousness, the Blue Ribbon Foundation is thankful for our donors, patrons, volunteers, supporters and Iowa State Fair lovers.

Part of my job includes listening to Iowans tell their personal Fair stories. Generations have made the Iowa State Fair a family tradition. I am thankful I’ve had the opportunity to join the Blue Ribbon Foundation staff and become part of the Iowa State Fair Family.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wisconsin's State Fair Thanksgiving Waffle:


Looking for 2014 Interns

November 20, 2013
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As we get ready for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, I think back to college when I used to get an entire week off. I'm grateful for the two days in the working world, but a week would be great!

For all of you lucky college students who get next week off, I would suggest you start thinking about what your plans are for this summer. It’s not too early to start thinking about jobs and internships. In fact, the deadline for our internships is approaching quickly. Take a few hours next week during your time off and update your resume, polish up some writing samples (and design samples if you have them) and apply for the Foundation's internships!

The Foundation’s interns are a valuable addition to our staff. The internships are designed for the student to take ownership of projects. Whether it is managing volunteers, organizing fundraising events, or daily office tasks – our interns are key to a successful summer.

Personally, I developed my writing and design skills when I was an intern. My public speaking and organization also improved. I definitely expanded my customer service skills. I walked away from the internship with experience that could help me further my career.  It was hard work but a summer I will never forget.  

I finished the internship with experience that helped me succeed in my senior year at Iowa State. I’m positive the internship gave me the needed work experience to accept a full time job offer before I graduated. There is no doubt the internship landed me the full time position as the Communications Manager.

For more information about the internships and how to apply, check out on our website. If you have any questions regarding the process, please contact me at or 515-262-3111 Ext. 675. We look forward to receiving your application and hopefully in person for an interview. Applications are due December 31...don't miss out on this great opportunity!

Pictures of Interns in Action:

Unexpected Part of the Job

November 13, 2013
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Before I started working for the Blue Ribbon Foundation, I had a pretty good idea of what the Communications Manager did. I knew that I would manage the website and social media. I also knew that I would plan the Fairgrounds 5K and the Corndog Kickoff. I had a basic understanding of the giving and membership programs. From my previous experience of working for a nonprofit organization, I know that it is the nature of the job to take on different roles at different times.  Recently, I took on the unique role of bricklayer. (One tasks that I don’t remember reading in the job description.)

The Foundation has the Buy a Brick program. With a donation, Fair-lovers can have a brick engraved and placed on the Fairgrounds. Two weeks ago, I had 56 bricks to place throughout the grounds. Fortunately, Robin is a pro at laying bricks and was gracious enough to show me the ropes. After watching and learning - I had it down. In all honesty, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.  Being outside for the afternoon was a nice break from working at my desk.

Although I drive onto the Fairgrounds every day, I am still learning where things are. There are 15 bricks pads on the grounds. Some of the locations are almost full. You can easily tell which bricks have been on the Fairgrounds since the program was started years ago.

Bricks are placed every fall and summer. This coming June, I will load up the back of my car with (hopefully even more) bricks, and a variety of official brick laying tools. It’s really an assortment of random tools that I have no idea what they should actually be used for. My plan is to have the interns help me with this unusual job.

The names and phrases on the bricks, in addition to the people that have donated to the Foundation, are a big part of the Iowa State Fairgrounds. The memories that are made during the Fair will forever be remembered with these bricks. I have my own brick that sits on my desk. I have absolutely no doubt that I will make plenty of my own memories while working for the Blue Ribbon Foundation.

Check out more information about the Brick Program and all of the Foundation’s Giving Programs.


2013 Fairgrounds 5K Wrap Up

November 7, 2013
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Last week was a whirlwind but I am excited that I have completed my first Blue Ribbon Foundation event. On Sunday, there were over 400 people on the Fairgrounds for the 5K. The sun was shining and it was breezy.  In my book, it was a beautiful day.

I would like to thank all of the Fair-goers that participated in the 5K Run and Walk. I saw several families running, walking, or chasing the cow together. It was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It still feels strange to have an event at the Fairgrounds and walk along Grand Avenue without weaving your way through people.  It was a nice change of pace from August.

One thing that I have learned very quickly while working at the Foundation is that volunteers are key to success. I truly appreciated their help. It made my job so much easier having such great volunteers. I wanted to specifically thank Robin and Jenna. I have one of the best “teams” to work with. Last week had some stressful moments, but both of them stayed positive and encouraged my every move.

The corndogs, Fair Squares and beer were a big hit with the crowd. I will continue to add new things and maybe even more food to the event next year. In all honesty, food is one of my favorite parts of the Iowa State Fair.

This week I have received feedback/ suggestions to help improve the event. Here are a few comments from the race:

  • I really enjoyed this race. The course was great, a little challenging (in a good way) and the course support and spectators were awesome.
  • We had a great time at the Fairgrounds 5K and hope to return next year. We traveled 70 miles to participate.
  • Overall keep up the good work! I will keep coming back every year. I like to be the person that has done the race each year.

Although the 5K is finished, my job doesn’t slow down. It’s time for membership program renewals, giving program promotion and to start planning the Corndog Kickoff! (I am already getting nervous for that event.) Thanks again to those that helped make the Fairgrounds 5K a success. My goal is to make the 8th annual event even better.